On Reflection: Week 7, Module 4

Significant progress this week, mainly with regard to producing images for the forthcoming Work in Progress assignment.

Finding a way in, I have discovered, to be the hardest part …

The value of networking has been made apparent.

Being technically skilled is far from sufficient to make a living as a photographer. It is essential to have good business skills, and good marketing skills.

Businesses which thrive have some diversity in terms of the products and/or services that they offer. They are also skilled at selling the same product or service in different ways.

Advice from an experienced professional has given me valuable insight into how, in practical terms, several revenue streams can be generated by one image.

Social media presents a myriad of opportunities for self-marketing. But are they all appropriate in every case? The informed answer to this has to be a resounding no.

Each social media platform offers unique features, and the merits (and ergo the demerits) of each platform must be assessed in relation to the marketing needs of each individual photographer. In short, the platform must match the portfolio.

A potential collaboration has been discussed. It’s very early stages yet but I am quite excited about talks regarding the use of visual research methods in relation to a PhD in psychology.

The forthcoming week promises to be busy, especially with regard to the logistical aspect of preparing further images for the Work in Progress assignment.

Even with so much to do, I feel that I am not really getting to the heart of anything. I feel as though I have entered the doldrums.

I need greater insight into where I am at the moment. Carrying out a Johari Window analysis in relation to my photography may provide that insight.

Carousel

Red Velvet

Morris, 2017. Untitled #1

Chocolate Gingers

Morris, 2017. Untitled #2

Ready Salted

Morris, 2017. Untitled #3

Coca Cola

Morris, 2017. Untitled #4

Twix

Morris, 2017. Untitled #5

Pork Pie

Morris, 2017. Untitled #6

Carousel is a photographic study of the interrelationship between mental health and diet.

Questioning the role played by diet in contributing to or in alleviating medical conditions, the images represent bi-monthly entries from a journal maintained over a three-year period by a female suffering from anxiety, depression and fibromyalgia.

As the images begin to interrogate the role of nutrition in supporting the pharmacotherapy traditionally used to treat such conditions, the viewer is prompted to ask whether greater emphasis could be placed on nutrition as a means of not only treating mental health disease, but also preventing it.

This is both socially relevant and timely. It has long been held that we ‘are what we eat’. Clinical studies conducted by assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Colombia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Dr Drew Ramsey have now established the link between a nutritionally dense diet and mental wellbeing in addition to showing a correlation between a nutritionally poor diet and mental illness. Results of Dr Ramsey’s studies were presented at the symposium Food and the Brain in May 2016.

Selective focus leads the viewer’s gaze to the main subjects: items of food consumed by the diarist which are shown alongside the pharmaceuticals used to treat her medical conditions. A selection of self-help and recipe books related to the sufferer’s conditions complete the story of an individual struggling to live with debilitating illness. Sheets from a tear-off calendar represent the passage of time.

Constituting my current Work in Progress research project, Carousel is presented in monochrome and results in the slowing down of time, causing the viewer to pause and prolong their gaze.

Colour images can be associated with a particular era due to, for example, a particular type of film or method of post-processing that was en vogue at the time. Presenting images in monochrome removes such associations, bringing a quality of timelessness.

Furthermore, monochrome images accentuate highlights and shadows, a greater tonal range is quickly brought to the viewer’s attention. The resultant chiaroscuro adds a sense of drama which is particularly appropriate to the images of Carousel.

Justification for the use of black and white extends beyond the aesthetic. Working purely in tones enables one to concentrate more fully on other aspects of image-making, for example, lighting and composition in addition to developing a visual narrative.

In terms of aesthetic, images within the Carousel series have been subject to some experimental post-processing. This has not been undertaken simply to be seen to be doing something, but to be seen to be doing something different.

Whilst the use of textures is established in some genres of photography, it is seldom seen in food photography. This makes my use of textures to bring added richness and depth to my images quite unique. Keywords for the successfully integration of layers into images being subtlety, sparingly and appropriately.

On Reflection: Week 6, Module Four

‘Semiology offers a very full box of analytical tools for taking an image apart and tracing how it works in relation to broader systems of meaning’ (Rose, 2016).

I have faced criticism suggesting that I am overly concerned, perhaps preoccupied, with how my images look.

My initial reaction was to question this, to challenge (no one likes criticism): ‘so how the images look isn’t important then?’, ‘if that’s the case, what is important?’

Stepping back and reflecting, perhaps this criticism isn’t as simple as it may appear at face value.

How do I unpack this criticism?

There are two aspects to how an image looks: the technical, and the artistic.

Deconstructing this further, there are two aspects to the artistic component: the composition, and the story.

I think the suggestion being made is that the technical aspect and the composition are favoured at the expense of any meaning.

Distilling this, disparate objects are thrown together without any care for meaning.

Hodgson (2012) suggests that we frequently perceive and discuss images as being “of something” without attempting to consider that images are also “about something”, an idea which links strongly with Barthes concept of the signifier and the signified.

And distilling this idea, images have two parts – what they look like and what they mean.

Key, then, for the continued development of my practice is to understand the ways and means by which I can improve my visual storytelling.

Semiology, alongside content analysis and cultural analytics, is a method of image analysis.

Not without critics, it uses signs as the base unit of reference in order to offer a ‘certain kind of analytical precision’.

Writing in defence of semiology, Rose informs us that ‘human culture is made up of signs, each of which stands for something other than itself, and the people inhabiting culture busy themselves making sense of these signs’.

Arguments against semiology as a method of image analysis include its use of elaborate, theoretical terminology, and its requirement for highly detailed reading which raises questions as to its representativeness and replicability of its analyses.

I want to use this post to think things through, to think aloud in effect. By articulating my thoughts externally, I am forcing myself to clarify, to pin down quite precisely, an issue which needs addressing.

This is a reflection post, so analysis of images will take place elsewhere, but how can I use semiotics to decode images in order to analyse what makes a strong image? How can I use semiotics to improve my visual narrative?

A starting point is to analyse the various elements that are formally recognised as constituting a story.

Semiotic analysis of images is (currently) carried out on images post-capture. Carrying out semiotic analysis on images at the drawing board stage will undoubtedly aid the development of the visual narrative – before and after.

This is an area where, admittedly, I have perhaps been weak in the past. Nevertheless, as my knowledge and understanding of the visual narrative and storyboards has increased, the meaning attached to my images has, I believe, also increased – Cravings and Carousel being offered as examples to support this suggestion.

 

Reference:

Francis Hodgson: Quality Matters (2013) YouTube Video, added by Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography [Online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dj3Wq-I7tc (accessed 19 February 2017)

Rose, Gillian (2016). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Methods. London: Sage Publications Limited

Yousuf Karsh, Master Photographer

Yousuf-Karsh-Winston-Churchill-1941-1557x1960

Karsh, 1941. Winston Churchill

‘One of the great portrait photographers of the 20th century, his subjects were as great as his mastery of technique’ (Time.com, 2015).

The Library and Archives Canada is home to the Karsh collection. The 355,000-item collection includes all the transparencies, prints and negatives that were produced by Karsh from 1933 until acquisition by the Library and Archives in 1987. Negatives alone account for 150,000 items of the inventory.

Yousuf Karsh opened his first studio in 1932. By the time of his retirement in 1992, he had photographed more than 15,000 world leaders, artists and scientists. Over 20 of his images had featured as cover photographs for Life magazine.

As I write, Karsh’s iconic 1941 image of Churchill features on the £5.00 note currently in circulation in the United Kingdom (November 2017).

What, then, of the characteristics which not only define, but set his work apart?

Jerry Fielder worked as Karsh’s photographic assistant between 1979 and 1992, he is now director and curator of Karsh’s estate. Interviewed by Eliza Berman in 2015, Fielder described Karsh’s technique accordingly: ‘you can teach technique, but talent is innate, and he just had a great understanding of light’. In Berman’s words, Karsh considered light to be a tool, and he manipulated it expertly both in the studio and the darkroom.

The lighting in Karsh’s portraits is described as dramatic. Karsh acquired his knowledge under the tutelage of portrait photographer John Garo.

Garo is rarely referred to today. However, he was a well-known member of the photographic community in Boston in the 1930s, and it was to Garo whom Karsh was apprenticed.

It seems very reasonable that Karsh was influenced by the light falling into Garo’s skylight lit studio.

The Ottawa Little Theatre displays several of Karsh’s original photographs. It was also here that Karsh, who was a member of the theatre, learnt about the theatrical lighting which was to become his trademark.

Setting technique aside, Karsh had enormous empathy with his photographic subjects. In his own words: ‘there is a brief moment when all there is in a man’s mind and soul and spirit is reflected through his eyes, his hand, his attitude. This is the moment to record’.

Fielder further describes Karsh’s ability to empathise with his subjects: ‘he traveled regularly, preferring to photograph people in their own environments to maximize their level of comfort in front of the camera. And as much as possible, he spent time getting to know them before even laying a finger on the camera.’

Yousuf-Karsh-Albert-Einstein-1948-02-1899x1960

Karsh, 1948. Albert Einstein

Karsh’s study of Albert Einstein (1948) is clearly a masterclass in portrait photography.

The image offers a limited range of values, off-whites through the greys with black being reserved for only the deepest shadows.

The subject is set against a background which suggests an academic setting. Separation of the subject from the background is achieved by shallow depth of field and by subtle illumination of the background.

Gradual transition from light to dark across the subject’s forehead and face suggests beautifully soft lighting, positioned to show the texture of the subject’s wizened skin.

Hands held in a relaxed yet classic contemplative pose, the subject’s eyes, whilst bright and alert, suggest that the sitter’s thoughts are placed elsewhere.

All this results in a portrait which is exquisite.

Applying Barthes (1977) method of analysis, Einstein is clearly the signifier, the signified being his quiet, unassuming and yet superior intellect.

The subject is photographed at a close social distance, the portrait is quite intimate as we are invited into the subject’s personal space. The angle of view suggests subject and viewer are of equal status, the eye-level image portrays neither a sense of superiority or inferiority on the part of the sitter.

Karsh’s trademark theatrical lighting provides the viewer with a reading path through the image which leads to the primary salient feature, the subject’s face, and the secondary salient feature, the sitter’s hands held in contemplative pose.

Once the viewer’s gaze reaches the salient feature, it finds the subject’s gaze makes no demand to engage, instead it makes an offer. Perhaps this offer is to look away from the trivial, the banal, the routine. Certainly, we are left wondering what images this great intellect is capable of seeing. What is in Einstein’s mind’s eye as he sits for this portrait?

So, what is the relevance to my photographic practice?

Whilst Karsh’s portraiture is far removed from the genre of food photography, there is some common ground: irrespective of the genre in which we practice, as photographers we all must understand the nature of light in order to craft it, to shape it, to manipulate it to reveal the true character of our subject.

By working in different genres, and as a consequence understanding how to manipulate light in differing circumstances, I am developing a valuable transferable skill which is only of benefit in my main area of practice.

Karsh’s portraits demonstrate his superb ability to get to the heart of his subjects, to identify their unique character. They also demonstrate his mastery of technique.

But they reach further still, revealing Karsh’s skill at blending empathy and craftsman-like technique to tell a story in a single image.

 

References:

Barthes, R. and Heath, S. (1977) Rhetoric of the Image in Image Music Text. London: Fontana

Berman, Eliza (2015). ‘Yousuf Karsh’s Masterful Portraits: from Churchill to Hepburn’. Time.com, 18 March 2015 [online]. Available at: http://time.com/3684569/yousuf-karsh/ (accessed: 04 November 2017)

MAYN Creative

Based on contemporaneous notes: 01 November 2017

A very significant point in my photographic career – first contact with a photographic agency.

An informal telephone conversation with Lynn Chambers of MAYN Creative, Falmouth University’s in-house photographic and creative agency, proved a very worthwhile investment of time.

The premise for my photographic practice was well received and I was grateful to receive professional advice.

Networking was identified as being key to developing my practice (being separate from the development of my photography).

Building relationships with food stylists, especially those who may be local, was encouraged.

Assisting food photographers, again especially any who may be local, was also strongly recommended.

Self-led projects were highlighted as being useful because they will extend my skillset in addition to gaining exposure for my practice.

Arranging meetings with potential clients, for example art directors or editors of regional magazines, was also suggested as a way of gaining exposure for my work, having my portfolio reviewed and establishing how individual publications go about commissioning work.

Given my specialisation, commercial food photography, developing my (existing) LinkedIn profile was identified as a good way of continuing to build my online presence.

Work is already underway to build a dedicated website for the business. A further informal discussion with MAYN is scheduled for mid-January, following up on progress regarding the above. At this point I will also be able to obtain feedback regarding the design of my website.